We were up in Beijing for the Labor Day holiday, and it was six days of relaxation and partying. Xianyi and I finally visited the Forbidden City together, although we failed (again) to find our way to the Great Wall. We were just too busy sleeping in each day to bother making the 2-3 hour trip. Anyway, the wall’s not going anywhere. And one of the cool things about Beijing is that you don’t have to go far to see really cool traditional Chinese architecture. The above picture, for example, was taken during our last hour in the city, when I asked the taxi driver to pull over for a minute as we drove to the train station.
The highlight of the trip was the MIDI Festival, China’s only outdoor rock festival. We spent one of our days at the four-day show and had a great time. Probably should have gone on other days, too, but it just didn’t work out. While there, we saw a lot of bands, none of whom I was familiar with. But I wasn’t really there for the music, more for the atmosphere. Here you have ten to twenty thousand young Chinese gathering in Beijing’s Haidian Park just hanging out, listening to music, drinking beer and selling wares. Lots of food stalls, people selling t-shirts and handmade goods, and plenty of cheap, cold beer. It was awesome!
Mostly I spent the hours skating on the mini-ramp that Eli’s company had set up on the grounds. I fell down about 20 times but it was great to watch some of the guys there who really knew what was up, like this Swedish dude:
I was having so much fun skating, I pretty much missed all the bands. But we could hear lots of music, so that was all that mattered.
Here I am looking like maybe I know what I’m doing. To see what actually happened, click here. It’s pretty funny.
All week, we’ve been doing little besides eating, sleeping and reading. I finshed one book and started another. Xianyi has been in a blissful mood for days as she constantly feeds on her mother’s cooking. And this little computer and wireless internet are keeping me from getting too bored in between meals and naps.
One of this year’s blessings has been the weather: Chengdu is pleasantly warm and dry. The first year we visited Xianyi’s parents for Chun Jie (2004) was a cold, wet nightmare. It rained every day. The cold was biting, especially since they don’t have any heat except for an electric blanket. In fact, the following year, they bought a space heater just for me because it was obvious how miserably cold I was the first year. And I used it all the time, though it didn’t help much. But this year, it’s been great.
Despite the warmth, however, Xianyi’s mom still implores me to “Chuan yifu!” (put more clothes on) every chance she gets. And her life comically revolves around food. Her last words before going to bed every night are, “If you get hungry, boil some eggs.” One night, after she had retired and we were still watching TV, she called out from the bedroom, “Are you guys hungry? I can make you some rice.” Her food is delicious, though. And she certainly can’t be blamed for her food-centric ways; as a child, she was poor and food was a constant concern. Not an uncommon thread in China.
The other night we went out to see Dan and Tenzin, though we only caught up with Dan. He has been DJing at a local club, which, as it turns out, was one of Fang Bian Mian’s stops on the infamous Tour. It has been completely re-done since then, however. When we walked in, the first thing we saw was Dan at the controls:
Besides us and about 50 staff, the place was dead. Such is life on the Tour. The manager, Nick, introduced himself and showed us around his very large, very nice, and very empty nightclub. We had a drink, chatted a bit with Dan, and came home.
Good friend Jeff Crosby has written a great post about his recent travels back to Yunnan province, the place where Xianyi and I met him when he was living with Eli in Kunming. Jeff currently lives and works in Beijing, but makes a few trips back to our old home each year.
This writing is about a trip into the mountains to visit an ancient tea tree. Here is a sample:
This plant slowly evolved in this back corner of the world and was discovered and nurtured by an obscure and forgotten people. Somehow this little plant sired millions of offspring who went on to become one of the most economically, socially and politically important plants in the world, shaping cultures and markets, playing decisive roles in massive historic events from the Opium Wars to imperialism, the American Revolution and Indian Independence.
We took a trip to Sanya – China’s closest thing to a resort city – earlier this month, and I must say, we were very, very impressed.
The beach was absolutely beautiful. Long and wide, with clean, fine, white sand and (gasp!) clean, clear, blue water, it was an absolute joy to lay out, walk through the surf, and swim in the ocean. There weren’t too many people, as it was not a national holiday (we did the long weekend: Thursday evening to late Sunday night), but it wasn’t deserted, either. Just enough people to make us feel comfortable and not crowded.
Our hotel, which was across the street from the beach, had a gigantic pool which usually had no one swimming in it, to our utter delight. The staff were courteous and friendly, and the food was better than I expected. The room itself was big and breezy, with a small balcony where we could sit out and read or eat. We even had HBO and CNN on the tube.
Two years ago I visited the beach in Xiamen, another Chinese city (on the mainland, as opposed to Sanya, which is on Hainan Island) and I came away very impressed with the cleanliness of the beach and water. But in Xiamen, I have to say, they didn’t have a clue about beach culture. Everyone walked around fully clothed, often with shoes and socks. Most of the women had umbrellas. One guy was riding his bike down the beach. No one sold any bathing suits, towels, sunscreen or any beach paraphanellia.
But in Sanya, they knew what they were doing. The hotel provided sunscreen in the room. Every shop sold rubber tubes, towels, floating devices, bathing suits, and cheesy Hawaiian shirts. They even had jetski rides and parasailing. We did the former, but not the latter. And you know I bought a lame Hawaiian shirt.
The only drawback of the weekend was when we showed up to the hotel on Thursdsay night. They tried to put us in a room with twin beds, when we had reserved a king-size. They told us they were out of double beds, and they expected us to resign ourselves to pushing the beds together, I guess, because they refused to put us in another room, insisting that they had no double-bed rooms available. Well, they calculated wrong, because we were ready to fight tooth and nail to get what we were paying for, and they cracked after about 15 minutes, MIRACULOUSLY finding a room with a king-size bed THREE DOORS DOWN FROM THE ORIGINAL ROOM THEY TRIED TO GIVE US. Someone please tell me, when will the Chinese learn the value of good, honest service?
Other than that, things went fine. The area of town we stayed in (Yalong Bay) was a bit more exclusive, meaning more isolated, than the beach area closer to town (Dadonghai), which meant there were no restaurants or shops near our hotel, and we had to take our meals in the hotel restaurant. We did take a cab to town one night: we went to an awful Italian restaurant that someone had given us a flyer for on the beach, stocked up on drinks for the room, and vowed not to come back.
I also got out to play golf one day, which was great. I was able to play alone, which I love, because I’m not really into meeting strangers on the golf course (although, I must admit, when I do play with strangers we usually end up getting along pretty well). I had a nice caddy, the course was great, it had stunning mountain views, and I carded two pars and had my fair share of good shots, considering it was only my second round of the year (and probably my 3rd in two years). My best two shots were: 1) a long, sliding downhill putt from about 20ft which dropped center cut for par; and 2) a 5w which I absolutely HAMMERED on a par 5 over water, though sadly it was still 20yds short of the green 🙂
We both got good and tan in about our first 20min on the beach, and just had so much fun swimming and reading and resting and eating. It was a truly relaxing and enjoyable getaway.
And now we can look forward to a weeklong vacation for National Day, Oct 1-7. Haha 🙂
Shown here is the Maglev train in Shanghai, hailed as a marvel of engineering, and indeed it is. Yet due to some poor foresight by the city planners, Shanghai’s magnetic levitation rail system is completely useless.
The maglev was designed and sold as a way to cut travel time to and from Pudong Airport, which in a taxi usually takes about 90 minutes or so. On the maglev, it was and is still claimed, that trip would be reduced to seven minutes, by traveling at speeds of up to 435 km/hour (270mph). Sounds great, right? Except that the location chosen for the “downtown” station is nowhere near downtown. It’s in Longyang, which is still a good hour from the city center by subway. Which means that after you take the super-fast maglev (and pay the 50 kuai ticket), you then have to take the regular metro line or grab a taxi. We did it once, for the experience. Never again.
UPDATE 2012: we actually did take the Maglev again, in 2011.
We took the train to Beijing Friday night after work, a 12-hour overnight ride that was quite pleasant. We got in around 7:30 and met Eli for brunch at a great Western spot (French toast and eggs all around) and then headed to the hotel to check in. Eli had reserved us a room right across the street from his house at Bei Shi Da (Beijing Normal University) which was large, comfortable and affordable. After getting settled, Eli’s roommate Kro drove us all to his pizzaria, where we enjoyed a fine slice of pie and a pint. Kro, whose real name is Ulaf Kristoff, also has a very large German shepherd named Bakka.
The pizza polished off, we left Kro to tend to his business and headed off to Bei Hai, the North Lake, which is a nice public park. There we saw some nice ladies singing opera and dancing around for fun, and also an old man painting calligraphy with water on the pavement.
The park got boring after 20 minutes so we left and went to Nan Luo Gu Xiang, a hutong (old alley) that has a lot of little cafés where we could sit down, drink coffee, and pass out for a little while.
At this point our old friend Jeff Crosby turned up. Jeff was Eli’s roommate in Kunming, which is where we first him when we moved to that city in early 2003. Jeff is a scholar of the Chinese language and has worked as a translator and interpreter since we’ve known him; he now is a project manager for a tea company and recently led a troupe of minority performers back to the US where they performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and other places. We had a round of White Russians to celebrate our reunion (and the fact that we would be bowling later – a little hat tip to the Big Lebowski).
From the café, we all went to dinner on Gui Jie (Ghost St.), which is full of restaurants, and chose a place specializing in suan tang yu (sour soup fish) which is served in a boiling pot of sour broth. This type of meal is typical in China, where diners can dump in raw meat and vegetables to be cooked in the communal broth, and later picked out with chopsticks and spoons and dunked into personal bowls of sauce. But unfortunately, it is a cuisine in which Shanghai comes up short, and so it was a great treat for she and I to once again enjoy a meal of its character and calibre.
Joining us at dinner were Da Hai and Dave, another old buddy from Kunming, who happened to be in town for two days interviewing for a job. Dave works for a foundation currently and is looking for a similar job with a better salary (which means leaving Kunming).
Next it was time for Baijiu Bowling. It’s just like regular bowling, except those rolling gutterballs have to do a shot of China’s infamous “white liquor”, and those who roll strikes can force others to drink. Guaranteed good times.
When the game was through, and we were all getting pretty buzzed, we split up: She left with Da Hai and another photographer friend they had brought along, to sing karaoke. The rest of us went out to a bar called the Hidden Tree. Except Dave, who wisely went to bed to prepare for his interview (he still woke up smelling like baijiu, never really a good idea when going job-hunting but more power to him!)
Kro and Annie, another friend on the scene, had joined us for the bowling and now we all piled into Kro’s jeep and went out for some real drinking. We hit two bars and ordered a pizza somewhere, which was funny because Eli was outside talking on his cell phone (typical) when the pizza arrived and we ate it all before he came back and then told him that it hadn’t arrived yet. He was asking a waitress where the pizza was and she was like, “I just brought it over here” and we all started laughing. To see how Eli felt about it, view this picture. Later on, we were trying to cheer him up, but it wasn’t really working.
The next day we visited Tiananmen Square for some classic pictures with the Mao portrait, which is, by the way, one of the worst pictures they could have chosen to display. Mao has bags under his eyes and looks like he hasn’t slept for days. It is a fitting picture of a man who for most of his rule was paranoid about people usurping his power.
The weekend was over as quickly as it had begun. It was a whirlwind, but well worth the journey.